Mitt Romney Carefully Avoids Insulting Ron Paul

There's been rampant speculation that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have a secret pact designed to help ease the former Massachusetts governor's path to the nomination, with some sort of payoff for the Texas Republican along the way.

The theory gained credence this past week when the Paul campaign suddenly began airing anti-Rick Santorum ads in Michigan (Santorum pointed out on Friday morning that Paul wasn't even campaigning in the state). It seemed even more plausible after Paul called Santorum fake during Wednesday night's debate.

But perhaps the most telling detail came on Friday, during Mitt Romney's much-hyped address at Ford Field in Detroit. Asked why he would be the best candidate to beat President Obama, Romney practically bent over backwards to avoid insulting Paul.

"I think the only way to defeat [Obama] is to have someone who runs against him who is very different than he, who can present a clear contrast. I have not spent my life in Washington," he said. "The other couple of guys I was debating the other night -- Ron Paul spent time in health care and so he is also different than the president -- but Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, fine fellas, but they spent their careers in Washington. They have as their background the same background he has."

Paul has served three stints in the House of Representatives. He first ran in an April 1976 special election. He lost the regular election that followed, and left office in January 1977. He ran again in 1978, won, and served until January 1985. He then ran again in 1996, won, and remains in the House today.

Gingrich was elected to the House of Representatives in 1978 and served until January 1999. Santorum was elected in 1990 cycle and served, first in the House and then in the Senate, through January 2007.

In other words, Paul has been lawmaker in D.C. for more years than either Gingrich or Romney. He may have been a doctor for a long while before and in between the periods he has spent in Congress. But Romney didn't note that Santorum worked as a lawyer earlier in his life, and Gingrich as a teacher.